Iran’s drone war over Iraq is getting dangerous – analysis

A drone incident on Wednesday night highlights the dangers of drone proliferation and Iran’s spreading of attack drones across the Middle East.

Three Iraqi civilians were injured in an explosive drone attack in northern Iraq, at around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night. The location is important: The incident occurred near Erbil, on what is known as the Pirmam road in Shawes. This area connects Erbil to Shaqlawa and is also near where a new US consulate is being built.

The full details of the attack are not yet clear, but it is significant in the larger context of Iran and Iran’s proxies using drones to strike at US targets, including its partners and allies in the region.

This includes drone threats to Israel, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iraq’s Kurdistan region and others.

Why now? The larger global context
The latest incident comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors’ voted to adopt a resolution calling on Iran to provide information about its undeclared nuclear sites.

The remains of the wreckage of a drone that was shot down are seen at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq January 4, 2022. (credit: IRAQI MEDIA SECURITY CELL/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
The remains of the wreckage of a drone that was shot down are seen at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq January 4, 2022. (credit: IRAQI MEDIA SECURITY CELL/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
It also comes in the wake of Iran’s seizure of two Greek ships in the Gulf as “punitive actions” in response to the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States a day earlier, only heightening the tensions.

Additionally, on May 30, pro-Iranian militias targeted US forces at the Asad base in Iraq. Iranian reports at the time claimed that the attack occurred specifically near the designated area of the new US consulate.

Location, location, location
The road from Erbil to Shaqlawa, where the attack took place, is often crowded with people at night. In the heat of the summer, many people in Erbil stay up late and tend to go out for late tea, food or smoking lounges.

Erbil is a successful and secure city and Iran and its proxies have tried to damage the security that it holds in the past. Drones are one sure method for it because the city has no real defenses against drones.

Who uses drones and why?
Iran has, in recent years, moved drone technology to its proxies in Iraq, as well as flooded the region with armed drones.

Hezbollah has thousands of drones, some of them likely capable of carrying a munition and acting as a kamikaze weapon while the Houthis in Yemen use drones against Saudi Arabia all the time.

Iran is pioneering drone warfare
Iran has used drones and cruise missiles against Abqaiq, a Saudi Aramco gated community that holds oil-processing facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia in September 2019.

It has used drones against Israel in February 2018, and then again in May 2021 when it flew a drone from Iraq. Just this year, Iran tried to fly drones over Iraq toward Israel and the US-led coalition shot them down. Israel also used F-35s to down Iranian drones last year.

Iran and its militias field the drones.

The drones can be flown from almost anywhere because they are not very large and can be launched from a catapult or a truck. Iran usually supplies a mix of drones and 107mm and 122mm rockets to its militias. Iran also uses ballistic missiles with increasing precision. For instance, Iran targeted the Asad base in January 2020 after the US killed IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani.


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